The principle applies as much in MLS as in track and field: when you see the finish line, run even faster.
Dynamo captain Brad Davis believes the team has stepped up its intensity, increased the pace and found momentum just in time for what is shaping up as one of the defining games of the season, Friday’s clash with the Montreal Impact at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
It’s the first of a trio of home fixtures against Eastern Conference playoff rivals, and the Impact are only two points ahead of Houston.
“This is a great opportunity for us. This Friday is the most important one, we can jump Montreal in the standings and hopefully give ourselves room,” Davis told HoustonDynamo.com.
“They still have a game in hand but it doesn’t matter, once you get the points and put pressure on the other teams, that’s always a good thing. Three out of our final four at home is a great opportunity for us to really pick up some momentum and hopefully take that into the postseason.”
After last Saturday’s valuable 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium, the Dynamo enter Friday’s game on a four match unbeaten run in all competitions, including a haul of seven points from their past three MLS encounters.
With the roster’s injury list looking smaller than it has for much of the year, Davis believes both minds and bodies are healthy as the regular season enters its final month. It has not always been the case. Heavy recent defeats to Montreal and the New York Red Bulls caused soul-searching among the players and prompted the team to redouble its efforts.
“A couple of weeks ago we got together and it was: we have one of two ways to go about it. We could either change it or we don’t change it, and we keep going about our business and we most likely won’t be successful,” said Davis.
“I think the mentality’s changed a little bit and you can see our trainings are a bit chippier, when we’re stepping on the field guys are going out of their comfort zone to do the little things, which is what you need to get results, especially at this time of year. It’s the type of mentality you have to have at this time of year.”
That was obvious in the gritty road win over the Philadelphia Union and in last Saturday’s tie, where hard work and a dogged approach paid dividends. It’s what everyone in the league, and the Dynamo players themselves, have come to expect when summer turns to fall.
“I think the other thing is that this team loves this time of year—in the back of our minds are our experiences. We’ve been there and fortunately we’ve won a couple of MLS Cups and been to the final, we know what it’s like to be there, and that’s a great feeling to have and we want to get that back, especially after the past couple of years when we were so close,” said Davis. “I think everybody’s bought into that, changed the attitude and things are starting to click.”
The Dynamo have lost twice to the Impact this year at Stade Saputo. Whether those bad memories provides extra motivation to atone for those performances this Friday is down to the individual, Davis believes. His priority is to remember what the team has done right lately and reproduce those good habits against one of the East’s best.
“You definitely think about [the Montreal losses] … it’s there but you can’t let that completely control your mind, you still have to go out and be smart about the way you play the game. You can use that a little bit in your mind if that’s what guys need to get themselves going. Without a doubt,” he said.
“But the most important thing I think is just going out and playing as we have in the past few games, a good full 90 minutes, a complete game and that’s what we were lacking all year. Finally we’re starting to put that together and that’s the way we need to finish up the season.”
After Montreal’s visit, Sporting Kansas City and the Red Bulls head to BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo wrap up the regular season with a trip to D.C. United, who are bottom of the standings but won the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night with an impressive victory away to Real Salt Lake.
“We just need to continue to play the way we have, I think we need to be definitely more aggressive. I think we were a bit tentative when we went to Montreal, getting into tackles and things like that. And that’s what we talked about, those things that we had to change. this is the time of year where you have to get out of your comfort zone a little bit and sometimes you’ve got to do dirty work and the intensity picks up during these times,” said Davis.
“If we keep the same mentality, keep the confidence we’ve been playing with lately, I think come Friday we’ll be in very good shape. The guys know this is a great opportunity for us in the standings. I fully believe that our team will be ready for Friday.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.